By Sarah Prohaska
The Palm Beach Post
FORT PIERCE, Fla.— Flanked by about half a dozen fellow K-9 officers, Michael Colton stood beside a painted portrait of his slain K-9 partner in a St. Lucie courtroom Friday and tried to explain how the dog's death affected not only his life and job, but also his family at home.
Colton said his daughter, who was 8 when the 5-year-old deputized German Shepherd was shot to death in the line of duty in 2004, also wanted to come to court Friday, but he wouldn't let her. The bond between dog and handler is forged not only on the job, but also at home — where, he said, Vasko became like a member of his family.
"It was tough on me personally, tough on my family, tough on the law enforcement community," Colton told Circuit Judge Gary Sweet, pausing when he became choked up. "I've waited for this day a long time, a long time."
Colton was in court to ask Sweet to sentence the man convicted of shooting Vasko to death to the maximum punishment possible. A jury in August found 21-year-old Barrington Levy guilty of killing Vasko while fleeing deputies after participating in a carjacking and kidnapping. The jury convicted Levy on seven charges in connection with the June 24, 2004, events. Vasko was the first St. Lucie K-9 to be killed on the job.
In the end, Sweet sentenced Levy to life in prison, plus 50 years. Sweet imposed three life sentences: one each for the kidnapping, carjacking and burglary while armed convictions. He ordered those sentences to be served at the same time.
He also ordered Levy to serve 15 years each for injuring or killing a police dog, resisting an officer with violence and possession of a firearm after being found delinquent, plus five years for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. Sweet said those sentences will run consecutive to each other, but concurrent to the life sentences.
Sweet said he found Levy to be dangerous and impulsive.
"He's one of those individuals who seems to be predisposed to do whatever is expedient to get what he wants at the moment," Sweet said.
During the trial, Colton testified he saw and heard a flash and crack after Vasko apprehended Levy and knocked him to the ground. Vasko then yelped in pain and recoiled from Levy, he said. He also said he saw a gun in Levy's hand. After Levy shot Vasko, Colton said, Levy pointed the gun directly at him. Colton then fired several shots at Levy.
Levy testified he did not have a gun and suggested Colton shot his own dog. He also said his co-defendant, Clemon Sneed, was responsible for the carjacking and kidnapping that led to the shooting.
However, prosecutors pointed out, veterinarians extracted a .22-caliber bullet from Vasko's body, and Colton shot a .40-caliber pistol that night.
Levy still maintains his innocence. When Colton was speaking, Levy interrupted, saying: "I didn't point no gun at him." His attorney, Daniel Ciener, read a statement that Levy wrote insisting he did not have a gun that night, and alleging he was set up because Colton is the son of Bruce Colton, the elected state attorney for the Treasure Coast.
"The state attorney for the 19th district is behind this to defend his son's actions," Levy wrote. "The life sentence I'm about to get isn't going to keep the truth hidden."
His sister, Adela Levy, said Levy will continue to fight his convictions, describing his trial as a "show."
"He is getting life in prison for something someone else did," she said. "It's been a long journey, three years, and today is not the end."
Assistant State Attorney Bernard Romero said Levy wasn't set up and he's lodged allegations against everyone but himself. Romero also revealed that the night of the carjacking there was a warrant out for his arrest on a charge of grand theft of a motor vehicle while armed from just a few weeks earlier. That, he said, was the reason Levy was so determined not to get caught that night.
"The jury didn't buy it. So, so much for that," Romero said of Levy's account of events. "If there is a conspiracy, it's a conspiracy of one — his conspiracy, his lies, his efforts to avoid accountability from day one."
Copyright 2007 The Palm Beach Post
Fla. K9 killer gets life sentence for night of crime